Court questions Interior on e-mail destruction

Court questions Interior on e-mail destruction

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has demanded that the Justice Department explain why the Interior Department destroyed e-mail messages related to a court case over American Indian trust funds despite court orders to the contrary. Justice is representing Interior in the case of Cobell v. Norton [see story at www.gcn.com/21_29/news/20110-1.html].

Court-appointed attorney Alan Balaran wrote to Justice recently asking why Interior destroyed e-mail messages to assistant secretary for Indian affairs Neal McCaleb dated between Dec. 1, 2001, and Oct. 1, 2002. Justice attorney Sabrina McCarthy replied to Balaran that Interior is investigating whether the messages can be reconstructed from backup tapes. Interior also has hired document management vendor Zantaz Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif., to retrieve the messages.

Balaran told Justice in a recent letter that the destruction of the e-mails 'suggests the absence of effective policies and procedures that ensure the preservation and retention of electronic correspondence.

'It further suggests the absence of any auditing protocols whereby incidents of destruction are detected and reported immediately,' Balaran wrote.

Interior is under court order not to destroy any records related to the Indian trust litigation, which has proceeded for six years over the issue of mismanagement of Indian funds held in trust by the government

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